On the Abolition of Capital Punishment

A brief commentary by Joe Boudreault October 2006 – April 2007

The death penalty has almost vanished from the landscape of western democracies. Academics and social activists like to point to this advancement as a sign of our decency and civilization. They reason that we have no right to take human life, for any reason. Life is sacred, or at least very precious, and who are we to make a law by which we end the existence of another fellow human?

But wait a minute. The very same reason for honoring the supremacy of value in this life (which they say must be protected) is also the same reason for prosecuting those who would kill. The punishment must fit the crime or there is no justice, let alone deterrent. If you take a life by malice and intent, you should forfeit your own life. Organizations like Amnesty International campaign for the rights of victims of torture and wrongful imprisonment and execution. That all sounds decent, but they oppose capital punishment, and that is hypocritical.

The world is full of vicious killers and suicidal maniacs. The world is also full of laws that aim to punish these criminals. Capital crime deals with life-and-death issues, and so capital punishment should apply. Anything less than that is morally repulsive and ineffective. Prisons fill up with murderers who eventually migrate back into our societies through paroles, pardons and legal dealing. And many capital offenders never see prison. It is a simple conclusion that if you are going to have laws to protect some citizens from the attacks of other citizens, then you had better be prepared to apply those laws, and they had better be fair and appropriate.

Pagan and aboriginal societies from the beginning of time have had such laws in some form or other. Often it was a brutal, simple death sentence. Sometimes it was ostracization or banishment, which was seen as a fate worse than death by many people. Monotheistic cultures in general and Christian cultures in particular have always dealt with capital crimes by addressing them to God, because it is to our Creator to whom we owe our lives. This is one of the highest and most important matters between man and God. Therefore it is for this very reason (that our existence is in the image of Him) that we must deal with it in a high and important manner.

The reasoning behind all of this is quite simple. Let’s look at three of the purposes for a death sentence: punishment, protection, and justice. Punishment deals with the rightful and fair recompense of the crime committed. Every human being knows right from wrong, and that right bears its reward and wrong bears its penalty. Protection deals with the safety of society and that involves both the removal of the criminal from the public arena and the deterrence of other possible crimes. Justice deals with the application of that which is equitable and right. If we fail in any manner on the first two purposes, we fail miserably on the third one.

We are creatures of a spiritual nature and therefore we cannot ignore God’s hand in this. Contrary to what some Christians think, the principle of capital punishment is clearly taught in the Bible. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life is not some barbarian concept. It originates from the Divine. Not only was a life forfeited with the spilling of blood unto death, but it was very public and had the immediate involvement of the remaining victims. Stonings, beheadings, or hangings in the town square, for example, were attended to by everyone. All aspects of capital punishment were addressed. As gruesome and explicit as this was, it accomplished its purposes.

Today, we hide capital punishment (if we have it at all) behind secret walls and we are so squeamish about the method that we have invented a “humanitarian” execution method of drug injection or simple firing squad, for example, forgetting the unsqueamish method of the murder.

There can be no argument against the appropriateness of a punishment fitting a crime. If a thief steals, the fit punishment is to restore the stolen property, to say the least. If damage has been done, the damage should be repaired. If insult was made, apology should be offered. Who among you would be perfectly willing to forgo these kinds of punishments if you were victimized? Would you surrender your lost monies, possessions, home, health or honor just to let the perpetrator off? I think not. All the more reason why you should expect and receive justice in a capital offense by the rendering of a capital punishment.

The counter-argument comes forth that we live in an enlightened era and that we cannot practice barbarism and violent tribalism. But murders and capital offenses in the dim pages of ancient history were no worse than murders and capital offenses in the “enlightenment” of our present age. Human nature has never changed. We owe God our very breath and our very being. Do you wish to counter-argue with God?

Then another argument arises that God has no place in human affairs: we are our own masters. We can do as we see fit. But from where does this reasoning come? If God is not in the equation of life and death, why is your life so important that no one can take it from you, even by forfeit?

Lest you think that the death penalty has no deterrent value, or very little, I like to refer to the old adage that no one who has been executed has ever committed another crime. As darkly amusing as that may be, it does establish the main purpose of removing the criminal for good, and setting an example to everybody else that such behavior will not be tolerated. If that isn’t deterrence, I don’t know what is. Letting murderers onto the streets and byways to live a rehabilitated life? Most of them just murder or commit offence again.

Our so-called enlightened society has almost no concern for the victims of crime. We spend more on trying to correct the behavior of offenders than we do on repaying the wrongful deeds. In so doing, by assigning as little as three years imprisonment for a murder, we mock and demean the life taken or the life irreversibly maimed and corrupted. Consider, what is it that prevents you from murdering or robbing or resorting to violence for anything you wish to have? Without a law against it, would you still obey the morals of society? Would everybody else? Look at any lawless society and you will not see any of the decency, harmony and safety of the world you live in where there is a capital law.

Even with the criminals we do have, sociologists and anthropologists argue, quite foolishly, that it is the pressures of society and the deprivations of a personal life that turn a right-doer into a wrong-doer. But God has told us of the story of sin, and that is the real cause of crime, not some imperfect gene or upbringing. The secularization of crime and punishment by the humanists goes against the very foundations of their own arguments: if by some chance a crooked gene is the cause of a murderer becoming a murderer or a drug addict becoming hooked, or a psychopathic deviate becoming as such, then their own law of survival of the fittest should tell them it is kill or be killed. By keeping and succoring the criminal and not eliminating him or her, they are corrupting the very gene pool they cherish so much for their own well-being.

It does not matter what the humanists and the legalists of societies think. God has the final verdict on our lives. He has ordained all the powers that be and He has required us all to pay obedience to them. Paul tells us clearly in Romans that disobeying the government is equal to disobeying God (13:1-2). Keep in mind that we are talking about governments established according to the guidance and principles of God’s commandments. Are governments (who usually administer and practice the laws) there for goodness and pleasant things only? Is the eye for an eye only for the practice between neighbor and neighbor? It is well that we remember what God himself would require from us as complete justice: our very death for our sure sin, and that sin is any offense against God.

Just so, the governing authorities, acting somewhat more leniently than we deserve (because they proscribe only certain offenses as being capital offenses) act as our protectors. Again, Paul says that our governments are our servants and they mean to be for our good. Thus, if you obey, you are free and bereft of fear. But “if you do wrong, be afraid, for he (punishing authority) does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent for wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4). If God’s wrath against our wrongdoing is death, what do you suppose the sword of the serving government is for? A limp token, an emblem of inefficiency, an idle threat?

Scripture has harmony in its teachings and the edict for death due to capital punishment in Old Testament economy has the same authority in our economy. Human nature is the same now as then, and so is sin and God never changes, so why should His dealing with us change? We can be thankful that there is some mercy in the carrying out of capital punishment, because some crimes which were deemed capital offenses away back when are not considered as such today.

A final objection to the death penalty comes in the form of a question: what about the possibility of an innocent person being executed? Sure, it does happen, and that is to be regretted. But to stop all executions against criminals (as most societies are now doing) is akin to allowing the guilty to go free. Societies which have abolished capital punishment have been eroding the very form of any kind of punishment little by little. It also demeans the victims. You rarely hear these protestors advocating a compensation plan for victims of crime, you rarely hear of them acknowledging the fact that they (and we) are under the condemnation of God anyway, and that is a divine death sentence. If we owe everything to God, we owe him thanks for his mercies, and we are commanded to seek Him and be justified to Him. If you are sure of your place before God, and therefore of your place in eternity, you are far less likely to worry about secular justice going awry, as it sometimes does.

Do you bear daily resentment and bitterness against the mortal dangers of the world around you, such as the roving murderers you do not want to execute, or the natural disasters which can suddenly overcome you? If you take some steps against those dangers, why do you not take the necessary step to ensure your safety in the sight of God? Nobody condones the execution of an innocent person, but it is a sad fact of our fallen world, like the innocent fireman, policeman or soldier who dies doing his or her duty. Do we eliminate firemen, policemen and soldiers from our societies? Far more victims suffer death on the highways of our world than do at the hand of criminals, but do we ban highways? We send innocent men and women off to war, knowing many of them will surely die. This is a sacrifice to protect ourselves against the aggressor. Capital punishment is the same thing. Have we ever abolished war? If you are an abolitionist, ask yourself that. A criminal is an enemy, and we must destroy that enemy if we are to preserve ourselves. In the same manner, we should not dull the sword of our authorities. They are there for our good.

Would we obey our laws if disobedience didn’t have any real consequences? Our own death, no matter how it will come about and for what reason, is not as meaningless as you might think. God sees every sparrow fall; do you not think He notices everything about each one of us? The very blood of Christ himself cries out in victory for the freedom we can have, a freedom far greater than evading a human gallows.

Statistics show very clearly that where executions by the state are decreased or stopped, murder rates and violent crime rates dramatically increase. The opposite is equally true: an increase in state executions is always followed by a dramatic decrease of capital crimes. I am sure the capital offenders laugh at the lack of capital punishment.

A prime example of the deterrence of capital offences by some form of capital punishment can be seen by looking at the statistics surrounding rape in African countries. The victims of rape in Africa are those who do not suffer from the plagues of AIDS and other deadly infectious diseases. Rapists target “clean” victims because they fear contracting an automatic death sentence from AIDS bearers etc. in frontier societies everywhere, violent crime dropped in every case where capital punishment prevailed on a regular basis.

There is, finally, a sound reason for applying the death sentence. It addresses the unavoidable question of Justice. It is just to execute a capital offender. Either there is a price for committing an offence, and a real guarantee of punishment to fit that offence, or there is nothing. True, executing a criminal does not bring back the victim, but neither does incarceration. However, justice is not about bringing back the dead. It is not about revenge either. Justice is about enforcing consequences for one’s own actions to endorse personal responsibility. And murder should not be the only capital crime. Rape, violent assault, attempted murder and assault, kidnapping or extortion, torture, and the illegal drug trade are prime examples of things that destroy lives. They should all bear capital punishment in the name of true justice.

A death sentence, when carried out, is not only a deterrence in many ways (not the least of it being a final deterrence to the criminal) but it is a serving of justice, a punishment of a violation of human rights, not a violation of those rights in themselves. The two can never be confused, because the capital offender had forfeited his or her right to live. Period.

Refusing to establish a death penalty in my country, Canada, is a moral outrage. First because it ignores the God-given directive to punish crime, and second, it is an arrogant case of the government ignoring the wishes of the moral majority of its citizens. Polls show that 75 percent of Canadians want the death sentence brought back for all capital offences. The same rings true for all of Europe, where abolishment is highest, in spite of the wishes of its citizenry. But then, this is a morally declining society with no more fear of God, thanks to liberal (Liberal) policies brought forth by atheist leaders over the past several decades. And if man will not appropriately punish man for crime, God will.

Should capital punishment (the Death Sentence) be upheld in our society? You better bet your life on it! Because that’s exactly what is at stake – your life! Anything less than the death penalty is a mockery of Justice. Abolitionists who advocate any form of banning capital punishment are in fact a people who show a total lack of moral coherence in their arguments.

To quote the Bible in defense of abolishing the death sentence is to seriously misquote scripture. The death sentence was given in the Old Testament and it was never rescinded in the New Testament. Careful and complete readings of parables such as are in Mathew 7, John 20 and Luke 23 indicate this. It is a fable that “only God has the right to take life.” God has given the state that very right for just cause against crime. Go all the way back to Genesis 9:6 and read that verse carefully!